Background: the battle for Ethiopia
God is forever at work in this world; and forever his work is both old and new. It is old in that his message has never changed: “repent and be reconciled to God”, yet new in that the message is constantly being heard in new and exciting ways and in new and exciting places as the Spirit of God sweeps like waters through a land, or blows like wind through a people.
It is clear today that God is doing a new and unprecedented work among the world’s Muslims. One of the first countries to experience this was Ethiopia — an empire comprising both Semitic and Cushite peoples. In 1910, Shaikh Zekaryas (an Amharic Muslim) converted to Christianity, took the name Niwaiye Kristos (Property of Christ) and was baptised along with 3 000 of his disciples.
Blessed with freedom, thousands more Muslims subsequently followed. Today, according to reports, the Spirit of God is moving again in Ethiopia (see Operation World 2010). Unsurprisingly, resistance is mounting. [See: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 June 2018).]
Disgruntled forces both inside and outside the country are plotting to unleash mayhem, bring down the government and fragment the state. Indeed, a major battle has begun! For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places — Ephesians 6:12 (ESV).
Ethiopia: collapse would lead to Christian crisis
On October 29 the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. Its warnings with regard to the situation in Ethiopia should drive us to our knees. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have ‘set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability’.
However, it warns that state failure ‘would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East’ (page 4). On page 10 we read: ‘Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of pre-war Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.’
Within days of the USIP report’s publication, the 32-month-long Cold War between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) had turned hot in Tigray. [Explanation in English by Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed.] As noted in last week’s RLPB 575 (11 Nov) Update on Ethiopia, with the government now focused on fighting the TPLF (as distinct from ‘Tigraens’) in Tigray, ‘the security situation elsewhere in Ethiopia could deteriorate quickly and markedly’.
Consequently, it is imperative that the government’s ‘law enforcement operation’ against the TPLF be both successful and rapid. To that end, it is imperative that the new government in Khartoum (Sudan) not follow the course of its predecessor – President Omar al-Bashir, who supported the TPLF – but support the Ethiopian government’s vision for a strong and united Ethiopia, as much for its own sake as for Ethiopia’s. If Khartoum backs Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), as does Asmara (Eritrea), then the TPLF will be besieged, lacking support and supply.
On November 9 there was a military operation by the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi, in which the government forces prevailed. In retaliation, that night the TPLF sent forces into Mycadra – a nearby market town – where they led a quiet (no gunfire) massacre of non-Tigraens. When government forces entered the town the following day they were met with scenes of bloodshed, slaughter and the bodies of as many as 500 non-Tigraens (mostly day-labourers) hacked to death with knives and machetes. [See report by Amnesty International (12 Nov).]
Dr Abrham Amare, a surgery resident at Bahir Dar University, Amhara, reports that the dead are almost all Amharan. He laments: ‘Everyone has killed his neighbour. Wife killed her husband’ (who was brought to the hospital but could not be saved). On November 14 the TLPF claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on Asmara (the capital of Eritrea), Bahir Dar (the capital of Amhara State) and historic Gondar, and threatened more. According to reports, TPLF troops have retreated from southern Tigray’s Raya and Alamata towns. Headed for Mekele (Tigray’s capital) they were taking with them some 10 000 hostages, mostly youths (probably pro-government) they had rounded up and detained before fighting commenced.
Meanwhile, on November 14, gunmen in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region (an ethnically mixed region bordering Sudan’s Blue Nile State) slaughtered at least 34 people in an attack on a passenger bus. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said there were reports of ‘similar’ attacks, particularly in Wubgish, Yamp and Kido districts, and of people fleeing the violence.
According to unconfirmed reports, the victims of the bus attack were mainly ethnic Oromo and Sinasha, while the attackers were ‘anti-peace’ agents backed by the TPLF’. Also, on November 14, the government announced it had arrested 14 al-Shabaab and Islamic State (IS) terrorists who were on a mission to attack targets in the capital, Addis Ababa, and other parts of the country. Ethiopian security and intelligence forces had been tracking the terrorists, who had hoped to exploit the current insecurity to commit a terror attack in Addis.
MAY OUR SOVEREIGN, ALMIGHTY AND MERCIFUL GOD
* intervene in Ethiopia to thwart all evil plots designed to unleash mayhem, bring down the government, and fragment the state; may God’s good plans for Ethiopia prevail. (Psalm 146)
* intervene for Ethiopia to provide the reformist government with all the international support it needs to advance reforms and tackle resistance; may the government have wisdom to know how to move forward in a way that pleases the Lord and advances HIS good purposes.
* raise up peacemakers in the Church who can lead, heal and unify the people (Matthew 5:9), and open doors for humanitarian aid to be delivered; may God prove himself faithful to those trusting him for food, water, medical aid, shelter and protection.
* redeem this crisis to draw ever more Ethiopians to Christ and the Ethiopian Church ever closer to Jesus who ‘always lives to make intercession for them’ (Hebrews 7:25). May all Satan’s plans be turned upside-down.